Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From pulp fiction, one good habit

In a far corner of the warehouse, back in the dust and shadows, there are some books I haven't seen or read in more than four decades. I no longer remember the plots or characters or dialogue, but I do remember the pleasure of reading them. Sometimes I wonder: Did those books start my interest in detective stories, or was I drawn to them because I already had a fascination with dark secrets and the way those secrets might be revealed?

I don't know; that's one mystery the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew don't seem up to solving. Maybe a bit of both. Between the ages of 8 and about 12, I devoured as many of those books as I could find at the Carnegie Library in Kalispell, Mont. -- dozens of each, I'm sure. It wasn't until I was a young adult that I discovered, to my annoyance, that there was no such author as Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene. But by then I had gone on to darker fare: Raymond Chandler, John MacDonald -- even a bit of Mickey Spillane.

I know: a middle-aged man's recollections of his halcyon youth can get tiresome real fast. And I know without having to reread them that most of those early teen-detective series were, and remain, mostly crap. But I believe that for better or worse, they helped form one habit I can't help but appreciate: reading a book in bed each night before going to sleep. They're not always crime novels and some have been masterpieces -- I was unable to sleep for a couple of nights after finishing "In Cold Blood" when I was 16. It remains one of the most chilling things I've read. I wept on my pillow after "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- although, come to think of it, that could almost be crime fiction too: a secret revealed after a alleged rape, two homicides and a harrowing assault on a child.

My adult children are all avid readers, and I like to think it's because I encouraged them to be at a very early age. If they ever get around to thanking me for it, I'll just tell them to thank Frank and Joe Hardy instead.

9 comments:

Peter said...

I read the Hardy Boys years ago, but not since. Did Chet Morton ever get a girlfriend?
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave Knadler said...

You know, of course, that Chet Morton was gay.

Peter said...

Yeah, the homosexual subtext of the Hardy Boys. Think anyone has written that academic article yet?

Actually, Frank and Callie Shaw are back together after some rocky times in their marriage. Joe and Iola Morton divorced years ago, and Chet is prospering as a designer and software consultant in Greenwich Village, where he moved from Bayport whe he turned 26.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

Maxine said...

I was devouring Sherlock Holmes at that age. I never heard of ND and the HB until one of my younger siblings started reading them years later, when it was too late and I missed out on this experience, which I have subsequently learned is so formative to many Americans.

I read Lord of the Flies when I was about 9, and could not sleep for weeks, it gave me dreadful nightmares.

I also remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird when young (maybe 14) and the impression it made. Cannery Row also. It wasn't until ages later that I realised Mac and the boys (my heroes, along with Doc) living in their pipe were actually unemployed guys hanging around all day. I just adored them. I don't think I'd dare go back and read that book again now, I loved it so much. (I didn't think so much of the sequel, Sweet Thursday. I think it was Thursday.)

Dave Knadler said...

"Cannery Row," "Grapes of Wrath" -- one thing about Steinbeck, he was that rare literary lion who was also accessible to younger readers. I read those two very early on, and many times afterward.

Know what you mean about "Lord of the Flies." I think it must have helped shape my somewhat critical view of humanity.

Dave Knadler said...

Maxine, Sherlock Holmes is what I should have been reading. As it was, I didn't get to those until I was in my 20s. I don't think I would have been so enthralled with the Hardy Boys after those Conan Doyle stories.

Peter said...

My mother finally gave in and installed a reading lamp in my room after I'd stayed up many a night trying to read Mark Twain by the light coming in through the narrow of my closed bedroom door. That was not so many years after she used to read me Dr. Seuss at night. Perhaps all this explains why I tend to like wit and humor in my crime fiction.

Dave, I realized after my last comment that you may have been serious that Chet Morton was gay. I think the Hardy Boys television series, which came along years after I had read the books, had contemporary touches. Maybe that was one of them. I also wonder if the series ever sent Frank and Joe to a foreign land, where learning a few muttered words of the local language would be enough to let them pass, as it was in the books.
===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave Knadler said...

I was just kidding about poor Chet. Although I suppose that if you reread the series looking for evidence, you could find something to support the case.

Rodrigo said...
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